ADVOCATING for sustainable provision of quality health services, in many of our communities cannot be overemphasized because it offers opportunities to sustain good health for all. It is also true, people’s participation in and contribution to health systems has already been recognized in Zambia as central for primary health care and accepted as an essential element of many public health interventions. This perhaps is more crucial in rural set ups where access to health services still remains a pipe dream and a daunting affair for many people. Even in towns many people have difficulties accessing medical services because often times they are made to wait in long queues and only end up getting prescriptions to buy drugs when they finally get to see medical personnel. Sadly too, even the health reforms of the 1990s have given less attention to community participation and social values, focusing more on technical, economic and management factors in health systems. So the concerns of villagers of Katete district of Eastern Province over the decisions by their only big hospital St Francis, to introduce user fees will only help to obfuscate their lives. We totally agree that the newly introduced user fees at this hospital should exasperate the people because it is obvious that they cannot afford them. Headman Kalinde, (Mr Adrian Banda), has complained that St Francis Hospital is the biggest health facility in Katete whose services helped many people especially villagers who are not financially stable and cannot afford to pay for medical treatment or bills. Mr Banda says the introduction of new user’s fees will make many people fail to access health services. Is this what the nation wants? “Here in Katete district, we have St Francis Mission Hospital which is the biggest hospital and has been helping a lot of people for decades. The hospital has introduced user fees to be paid when one is sick which will be hard for ordinary villagers. “The problem we have with the fees is that people in the villages will not manage because most of them have serious financial challenges due to poverty. Even now they fail to pay for health scheme books that cost only K1.00 each,” he said Mr Banda rightly fears that many people will die because they will not manage to go to the hospital for treatment once they fall ill due to those fees. He has appealed to government to look into the matter with the urgency it deserves, and see how it would come on board, and talk to St Francis hospital management to find the way forward. “We are also appealing to government to build a hospital for us as the people of Katete so that many lives can be saved,” he says. On April 15, the management of St Francis Hospital issued an internal memorandum to the general public about its intention to introduce user fees. “The hospital will with effect from April 26, 2019 introduce user fees for all services; this is in continuous effort to improve the delivery service of health services to patients and the community at large. Prescribed fees shall be charged for certain services provided by the hospital” reads the memo. This situation is as solemn as it has come and needs exceptional attention because health of the citizens is overriding. Government should quickly engage St Francis Hospital management and see how the poor people can be helped, more so that this is a missionary hospital which is expected to know better.
Toying with people’s lives is totally insupportable and it is the government which will be held responsible in the long run if people in Katete begin to die even from preventable ailments.